Inheritance and Migration Patterns of Colonial Probascos

by Nora J. Probasco 

Copyright © 1999-2009 Nora J. Probasco All Rights Reserved

(Last updated 8 Apr 2009)  

A key to understanding why your colonial Probasco ancestor may have migrated away from his family is found in the inheritance patterns used in his day. As you have no doubt discovered, many of your Probasco ancestors who settled in New York (New Netherland) and New Jersey moved on to other places. The motivating factor was land and its availability. If a family was in possession of considerable acreage, future generations could inherit enough land to make a living and remain in the same area. If a family only possessed limited acreage, it was unable to provide for future generations and these generations moved to other places that were sources of cheap land. It should be noted that land ownership in the amount of 50-80 acres only allowed a subsistence living and usually required the Probasco ancestor to also take up a profession to augment his income. Farms of 100 acres or more allowed the Probasco ancestor to live from the fruits of his farm and also sell surplus goods to his neighbors and to the nearest market for additional profit.

In studying the inheritance patterns of the colonial period, there were two major influences which determined who inherited what in the family - Dutch custom and English custom. In the early period of New Netherland, the Dutch custom of inheritance was used which treated all children equal. Sons would inherit land and the daughters would inherit the family goods. The reason the sons would inherit the land was to keep this land in the family. When a daughter married, her land would have become her husband's land. So inheriting goods insured she inherited equally, but that land would remain in the family. When the Dutch bought land they tried to buy enough (as their funds would allow) for future generations to inherit, thereby keeping the family close together. When the English took over control of New Netherland, English custom of inheritance began to have an influence on Dutch families. The English custom (called primogeniture) called for the family land to be inherited by the oldest son, to ensure large estates remained in the family, and the rest of the children could inherit money or goods. Thus, this required later born sons to find land elsewhere.

In reading the will of your colonial Probasco ancestor, a few patterns will immerge. From the early settlement years to about 1664, families followed the Dutch custom exclusively. After the English took over New Netherland in about 1664, the English custom began slowly to show up though it was not readily accepted by the Dutch. In ceding New Netherland to the English, the English agreed that the Dutch could continue to follow the Dutch inheritance custom. It is usually in the mid 1700's that some Dutch families opted for the English custom or parts of it, though there does not seem to be a broad acceptance even at this time. There is one note of interest here. Even in the years that Dutch custom was the norm, there are examples of a colonial ancestor's will which leaves the land to the oldest son and money and goods to other children. This happened because there was not enough land for all of the sons to inherit. If cheap land was available nearby, the other sons usually purchased farm land in the area to keep the family together. However, as in the case of New Netherland, land soon became expensive which required the later born sons to buy land elsewhere that was more affordable. This could explain the expansion of the Probasco family into New Jersey, as well as a dislike of the English influence and conduct in New Netherland.

Since there has been no recorded will found for Jurriaen Probasco, it can be assumed that his children inherited his land and goods under Dutch custom. Even when a colonial Dutch ancestor died intestate, the Dutch custom of inheritance was followed. It has been assumed that Juriaen's two daughters died young, so his only son, Christoffel Jurianse Probasco, inherited his estate in New Netherland. Christtoffel's will, dated 29 July 1687, follows the traditional Dutch custom of inheritance. It should be noted that Christoffel also purchased additional lands in New York and New Jersey before his death.

About 1701, men from Long Island in New York, which included Stoffel Probasco, acquired 10,000 acres of land in New Jersey. It is not known what share Stoffel had purchased, however, by the settlement of Probascos in New Jersey in subsequent generations, it can be assumed he bought an ample amount of acreage. About 1708 his son, Jacob, had moved to New Jersey. His other two sons, Jan (John) and Jurrean remained on the land in New York. Around the early 1720's Christoffel, son of Jan (John), also removed to New Jersey and other of his siblings would follow.

It is believed Stoffel died around 1724 at which time his wife, if living, inherited all property. Upon her death, as no will other than the joint will she made with Christoffel has been found, it is probable that her children inherited equally under the Dutch tradition.  

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